A student from Louverture Cleary School outside Port-au-Prince teaches children from the neighborhood. Plans call for a network of the Catholic boarding schools in Haiti. Portland Catholics are prominent supporters. (Courtesy the Haitian Project)
A student from Louverture Cleary School outside Port-au-Prince teaches children from the neighborhood. Plans call for a network of the Catholic boarding schools in Haiti. Portland Catholics are prominent supporters. (Courtesy the Haitian Project)
A Catholic nonprofit that educates Haitian children is set to expand from one school to 10. The Haitian Project gets regular support from Oregon Catholics, including a team at The Madeleine Parish that organizes an annual Northeast Portland garage sale for the cause.

The planned system will reach an estimated 3,600 low-income children and provide a free, rigorous Catholic education. The original institution, Louverture Cleary School outside Port-au-Prince, was founded in 30 years ago by a group of U.S. Catholics. The boarding school not only educates 350 high schoolers, but gives scholarships to 120 alumni each year at Haitian universities.

The plan is to create leaders who help bring Haiti out of poverty and chaos.

Education is a key way to help a nation trying to rise up, said Bill Leineweber, a member of All Saints Parish in Northeast Portland who is a backer of the Haitian Project. “These countries get a lot of aid, but the aid is not productive beyond the initial tragedy that inspired them,” said Leineweber. “What gets a country out of deep holes is rebuilding infrastructure they have lost. That is what the Haitian Project is about.”

In Haiti, a country where children are more likely to die before the age of five than finish high school, 98 percent of Louverture Cleary students pass the national exam – quadruple the national rate. Less than one percent of Haitians hold a university degree.

“The reason we are so confident in the positive multiplier of education is not just because of our own mission’s success, but because of the church’s long history providing education to immigrants, marginalized and disadvantaged people around the world,” said Deacon Patrick Moynihan, the Rhode Island man who founded the project and is still its president. “Catholic education has been extremely successful helping immigrants escape ghettos in the U.S. and around the world.”

About 9 in 10 Louverture Cleary students stay in their country. The school asks alumni to build up their nation.

“What we are experiencing in Haiti is the opening of society and of the job market to our graduates,” Deacon Moynihan said.

The new network will allow students to attend a good school closer to home, he explained. As at the current school, students will be responsible for maintaining and cleaning their campuses, which are expected to have sustainable energy and water systems.

The Haitian Project says it needs $73.1 million to construct the network and more than $10 million per year to keep it operating. Deacon Moynihan, who is seeking funds from large foundations as well as everyday Catholics, said secondary education is the best catalyst for change in developing countries and deserves a bigger share of donations. He’d like to see The Madeline garage sale — which has raised about $25,000 per year — replicated around the country.

edl@catholicsentinel.org